Keith H Advanced Heart Pump Technology

“The Impella 5.5 was a life-saving device for me,” Keith added. “When I went into the hospital I did not know if or how I was going to have the opportunity to receive a heart. The Impella 5.5 made that possible for me.”

Toms River Man Receive Life-saving Heart Transplant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

(New Brunswick, NJ) - Although he is a builder with an in-depth knowledge of mechanics, Keith Hoch readily admits that he didn’t know too much about heart pumps or mechanical assist devices before he desperately needed one to support his failing heart as he waited for a life-saving heart transplant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

The 71-year-old Toms River resident had lived with heart failure for 17 years before medication therapy wasn’t effective anymore and he was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure.

His cardiologist, Kulpreet Barn, MD, referred him to the Advanced Heart Failure, VAD and Cardiac Transplant Program at RWJUH with the hope that Keith would be a good candidate for a heart transplant.

“Dr. Barn had a good relationship with the team at RWJUH,” Keith said. “When he contacted them, he said I have the ‘golden patient’ of (heart transplant) candidates for you.”

The reason Dr. Barn referred to Keith as a “golden patient” candidate is simple: despite the health challenges he faced for many years, he always remained positive, stayed active and followed the directions of his care team.

“When I hear about a ‘golden patient,’ I know that this patient will have a successful outcome and that the donor heart would find a caring home,” said Deepa Iyer, MD, Advanced Heart Failure, VAD, Transplant Cardiologist, and Medical Director of RWJUH’s Cardiac Transplant Program.

Keith Hoch

Keith played basketball his freshman year at the University of Florida before switching to rowing for the remainder of his collegiate career. He graduated with a degree in marine biology and worked for the Oyster Creek nuclear facility before a layoff had him change course.

“I knew I was handy, so I started doing jobs for other clients before starting my own contracting business,” Keith said. “I was constantly in motion, a former college athlete and a builder who worked hard.”

When Keith was diagnosed with heart failure in 2003, doctors said the cause was “idiopathic,” which means the origin of his condition was not known. Keith thinks it may have been the result of a previous respiratory infection but will never know for sure.

He was admitted to RWJUH in November 2020 under the care of Drs. Iyer and Kenneth Dulnuan, MD, Advanced Heart Failure, VAD, and Transplant Cardiologist.

Keith was found to be in cardiogenic shock - his heart had become too weak to pump blood and his liver and kidney function had started to deteriorate. He also had pneumonia and other infections. The team at RWJUH decided to implant an Impella 5.5 pump to support his failing heart which helped stabilize him through while being treated for the infections.

Impella 5.5 with SmartAssist is a temporary heart pump that is minimally invasively implanted into a patient’s heart. The heart pump technology enables heart recovery in patients whose hearts are too weak to effectively pump blood on their own after a heart event. It reduces the heart’s workload and oxygen demand, which enables the heart to rest and recover, and it supplies much needed blood and oxygen to the patient’s other vital organs.

“We had talked to Keith and advised him that he would need a temporary pump to support his heart,” Dr. Iyer said. “The Impella 5.5 is a pump that can be placed through an artery in the upper chest and helps the heart provide adequate blood supply to his organs, thereby keeping all his organs functioning well until he receives a suitable heart. Because it is placed through the upper chest artery, he can walk with it and rebuild his muscle strength and endurance which plays a crucial role in how he recovered post-transplant surgery.”

“The Impella 5.5 was a life-saving device for me,” Keith added. “When I went into the hospital I did not know if or how I was going to have the opportunity to receive a heart. The Impella 5.5 made that possible for me.”

When Keith entered end-stage heart failure, he could barely walk or perform basic activities.

“My brain wasn’t functioning well, and I was forgetful,” Keith recalled.

Keith’s daughter, Kelli, took time off from work and traveled from her home in Indiana to support her dad. Because her company had closed its offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to continue working remotely and remain by Keith’s side as he fought for his life.

“I remember during the time I went to the hospital; I was questioning whether I was a good enough person to accept someone else’s heart,” Keith said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Am I valuable enough to deserve this honor?”

Despite the weight of those thoughts and his daily health challenges, Keith stayed positive, knowing that he still had his family to live for and the desire to return to the active life he enjoyed right up until the day he entered RWJUH.

On Jan. 8, 2021, a matching donor heart was identified for Keith. The transplant was performed successfully at RWJUH on Jan. 9. Because Keith is a tall man (6 feet 4 inches), not only did the donor heart need to match his blood and tissue types, but it also needed to come from someone similar in size

“I feel this was meant to be,” Dr. Iyer said. “I remember getting a call about a suitable donor heart for him within 48 hours of him being listed. To be able to find a match this quickly was truly a blessing. I am not surprised he is doing so well; he has such a great attitude and is the ultimate ‘golden patient”.

Following his transplant, Keith has returned to his active life. In addition to his work, he traveled on a fishing trip in the Florida Keys at the end of last year and he is planning another fishing trip to Costa Rica this spring. He is thankful to the entire heart transplant team for giving him a second chance.

As a builder who continues to renovate and restore run-down homes in his retirement, Keith always had a strong appreciation for how mechanics and technology work. This appreciation only grew after being introduced to the Impella 5.5 and its capabilities.

“This technology is amazing,” Keith said. “I understand what mechanics can do and what this device could do for me was incredible – I am just in awe of it.”

The only thing that may inspire more awe in Keith is the selfless choice his organ donor and the donor’s family made during one of their most challenging times.

“The gratitude that I have for them and the fact that they were able to make this decision at that time in their lives is hard for me to put into words or explain,” Keith said.

Learn more about Transplant at RWJUH.

Learn more about organ donation and becoming an organ donor. Transplant at RWJUH.